I don’t know if I can remember the first time I felt guilt. I do remember the overwhelming feeling of guilt which comes. I remember many times when guilt and shame has overwhelmed me. When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I remember the feeling of overwhelming guilt. I have told you before about my parents telling me not to throw the ball in the house; it was one of their favorite lines because I did not listen. This day they were gone from the house. I was home alone. I was watching TV and behind the TV was a brick wall. I found that I could play catch with myself if I threw a tennis ball against the wall. I was pretty good at it.
But sitting on the TV was my great grandmother’s oil lamp. This is what was used before they had electricity. My mother had inherited it after her grandmother died.
After throwing the ball hundreds of times I finally missed and knocked the globe off. Of course, it broke. I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t hide it. I did it.
What I did was something like Adam and Eve. I left a note. My father remembers the note because my words were simple. “I broke grandmother’s lamp. I am sorry and am running away.” I went outside and hid in the bushes until my parents came home. I don’t remember a punishment but I do remember my guilt and being ashamed. It was overwhelming. I knew my sin.
I have been playing hide and seek with God, others and myself for 60 years. At times, because of my shame, I try to blame others or figure out how to get out of those feelings of guilt; excuse myself; rationalize, whatever it takes to fix the problem.
Guilt is a peculiar emotion. The guiltier I feel, the harder I am on others. It probably ought to work the other way but it does not. So, I keep returning to Baptism. It was the moment which changed everything for you and for me. It is the outward sign of cleansing, but it is more. It is the literal washing away of sin. The only thing I can’t be forgiven for is the refusal to accept God’s forgiveness.
The lessons we share this morning are quite wonderful. The Old Testament is a reminder that in creation, we all join in our humanity. Before the fall, before Adam and Eve’s sin there is a wonderful passage in which Adam and God walk together in the cool of the afternoon. I love that passage. God and Adam walking and sharing. But after the fall, when they knew their sin and they knew shame, when God came, they hid. We all share a need, like Adam and Eve, for forgiveness. We all need the same forgiveness because we have all eaten of the fruit.
The Gospel brings with it a simple understanding; God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It brings the truth that we can know the healing power of God not just in the physical healing of disease, but in the healing of dis- ease, the power which sin should bring uneasiness to each of us.
So, this morning we are called to know something wonderful. We are called and reminded that we can know the healing power; the restoring power of God today. We do not have to wait. We can know it and we can share it. It requires that we know our sin and seek God’s healing. It requires that we know that healing power which comes in forgiveness and we share that with others who do not deserve it. Just as we don’t deserve it. That is the power of what this gathering, this Eucharist is about. It is about transformation; it is about restoration; it is about knowing health found only in God. It is about us being part of that truth when we are willing to forgive the unforgivable, just as God has forgiven us.
What Jesus brings to each of us is the healing and restoring power of the Good News and at the heart of the Good News is forgiveness. It was what the families of the victims of the shooting at Mother Emanuel in Charleston knew on the day after the shooting. That is at the heart of what we do together each week. That is the power of what this gathering is about. It is about being transformed by God’s grace. It is what we are called to be and do in life. You and I are called to be forgivers even if the person does not deserve it or even ask for it. It is what God did for you through Jesus Christ.
Evelyn Underhill wrote these words, “Some people are rather troubled about the space the healing of the sick takes in the Gospels … This is because we are apt to think of healing as getting rid of people’s normal pain, disease, and distress. But healing is really restoring to true normality, mending the breaches in our perfect humanity, and making us again what God intends us to be. It shows us his Life-giving Spirit; the Lord and Giver of Life is ever at work producing and restoring fullness of life.” She goes on to say, “It means bringing back to what it ought to be, giving strength to the weak, new purity to the tainted by the action of his charity.”
Jesus’ redemption of the world is complete and it rests in him. The task remains for us to share the Good News. We are called on to join with Christ through our baptism as reconcilers and healers. We are called to forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable. It is our work. It is our joy and by it the world will be changed.
Jesus faced the religious zealots of his day. In the Gospel this morning he faced those who were so focused on the law they missed the point of the law. Sitting here today it almost seems dumb and yet, as I talked last week about fundamentalism, that seems like the very definition of it. Jesus was being set up to heal on a Sabbath. He was being set up to be condemned for restoring someone’s life through healing. He and his disciples were being condemned for not following the law the way the Pharisees thought the law should be followed. But what had happened to the law was human. God’s law was not about restricting God’s work of love and healing. God’s law was about a relationship with God. It was about honoring God. And in the midst of trying to live out the law the Pharisees had made God’s law about themselves.
“Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
Well that bothered me. You see, I want to be a good Christian. I want to follow the rules. I want to do what good Christians want to do. I want to learn about the Bible. I want to be kind to others and do Bible studies and read and say enough prayers to be a good Christian. But if those are really my hopes for my faith then I probably will get them and no more. If I do what good Christians do, I probably would be able to say “Lord, Lord”, but I would have no relationship with God - then what is the purpose?
In the church we have many rules. I have National and Diocesan constitutions and canons which I must follow. We have Parish bylaws. In liturgy there are directions and rubrics which I am required to follow. Though I have never experienced it, Bishops can give clergy Godly admonitions. It basically is a command. I can be prosecuted just like anyone else if I break the law. I can be charged criminally and civilly, but I also can be charged by the church. And yet the laws are there for me. The laws I have to follow are there to give me direction, and within those laws I have freedom. But the moment the laws become what is important then I lose my relationship with God. The moment the laws become the means to the end, then I know God is lost.
Alicia and I have been married for 32 years. There are laws in our marriage. There is a covenant with God and each other in our marriage but those rules and expectations only give us the boundaries. They do not represent the relationship that comes; the trust that comes in relationship. What I know in the relationships I share are not about laws. They are built on norms. They are built around trust. There are not enough laws to build and sustain a relationship. That is what Jesus faced in this Gospel. He faced those who would use the law to stop God moving. The law had become God for those who would condemn Jesus as he healed.
I want to be a good Christian. I want to learn and do. I want all the trappings of faith, but do I really want God to change me? Do I really want my life to be different because I know God and God knows me? Do I really want people I know to be changed because of my relationship with God? In our world, too often religion and faith are not connected. Too often it is easy to learn everything about religion and not have a relationship with God.
We have everything that we need here. You can study God’s word. You can come and hear God’s word. You can worship God in this place. Your priest is here all dressed up in fine robes and there is beautiful music and a gorgeous building. But if this is where your faith resides, then your house is built on sand. If you come here on Sundays and think you have done what you need to do to be a good Christian; if you think you have followed all the rules, then you have missed it. You see, all this, all that we are, the Eucharist we share, the music, this building, the programs offered are meant to point to one thing. All of this is meant to aim you at a relationship with God that changes who you are and propels you into the world to proclaim the risen Lord to those who do not know him. All of this is meant to enable you to act out your faith.